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The museum for black America: a force for unity—or division?

  Barack Obama marked its launch, but not everyone welcomes the new addition to the Smithsonian family.

  To paraphrase Martin Luther King—here at last, here at last, here at last. Almost a century after the idea was first mooted by black veterans of the Civil War and almost half a century after the leader of the civil rightsmovement delivered his immortal "I have a Dream" speech, an African American museum is finally about to rise in the heart of Washington.

  The National Mall, stretching from the US Capitol to the steps of the white marble LincolnMemorial where King spoke in 1963, is perhaps the capital city’s most special place, a two-milevista lined by monuments to the country’s greatest leaders and heroes, and by wonderful museums celebrating America’s history and achievements. But there have been some notableomissions.

  Last year one was corrected with the dedication of a memorial to King—even though the event has been somewhat marred by a controversy over the inscription on his statue, a version of lines from one of his final sermons that, according to the poet Maya Angelou, makes King sound "like anarrogant twit".

  And on Wednesday another omission was corrected. In a moment of perfect historical symmetry, Barack Obama, America’s first black President, led the ceremony for the future National Museum of African American History and Culture, devoted to the miseries, tribulations and triumphs of black America, scheduled to open its doors in late 2015.

  The site is one of the last available on the ever more cluttered Mall. But it is also one of the best: close to the Washington Monument and across the street from the recently re-opened Museum of American History.

  The long and laboured story of the 19th member of the Smithsonian complex has itself been a small slice of US history. The idea of a memorial to African Americans on America’s national space was first put forward in 1915 by a group of black Civil War veterans, but went nowhere. Then in 1929, Congress did approve such a project, but failed to provide funding.

  After the great civil-rights breakthroughs of the 1960s, pressure grew for a full-scale museum. Again though, nothing happened—not least because of the ferocious opposition of the late Jesse Helms, the powerful Senator from North Carolina and a last bastion in Washington of the bigoted "Old South", who insisted that a museum was "unnecessary", and a waste of taxpayers’ money.

  At this point, one may wonder how it was that the Holocaust Museum here—on the sacredNational Mall—was approved and completed in barely a decade. And it deals with an event that does not belong to the US national experience.

  The Holocaust Museum opened in 1993. In 2004 came the National Museum of the American Indian. But only now is work starting on a national museum that tackles head on, among other things, the original sin of the United States. As its director Lonnie Bunch told The Washington Post, slavery was central in shaping US history, but to this day remains "the last great unmentionable" in public discourse. "We will examine the dark corners of the American experience in a way we’re not always comfortable in doing."

  More than 100 black history museums already exist across the country, including the National Civil Rights Museum at the former Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr King was assassinated in 1968. Others are reminders of the huge impact blacks had had on American, and indeed global, culture—like the small house on the west side of Detroit where Berry Gordy set up his recording studio called Hitsville USA, now the Motown museum. In Washington, all these strands will be meshed together.

  The $500m (£318m) project is being funded by $250m of private donations, and a similar amount from the federal budget. Already Mr Bunch has amassed 25,000 artefacts, spanning the entirerange of African American experience, from slavery to civil rights, to their immense contributions in art, sport, music and almost every walk of national life.

  There will be a detailed examination of slavery which, he says, may well focus on the miseries of individual people: their families, the slave auctions where they were bought and sold, and the plantations where they worked.

  The African American museum will celebrate heroes of emancipation like Harriet Tubman (Mr Bunch has acquired the shawl given to Ms Tubman by Queen Victoria, which she wore two days before she died in 1913). There will be items that lift the heart—alongside exhibits on lynchings, and other brutalities and indignities perpetrated on blacks for much of the last century.

  Visitors will see Louis Armstrong’s trumpet, but also the original pine coffin that contained the body of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy bestially murdered in 1955 in Mississippi because he was reported to have wolf-whistled at a white woman. The coffin was deliberately left open at Till’s funeral in Chicago by his mother, so the world could see the atrocities visited upon her son. The public outrage that followed gave powerful fresh impetus to the civil rights movement.

  Today no one would dispute that the story of black America, for better and worse, is part of the story of all America. Even so, some see the new museum as part of a worrying trend, the subtleatomisation of a country that has always prided itself on being a sum greater than its disparateparts. Now, they worry, it’s not so much E Pluribus Unum, ("out of many one"—the phrase on theSeal of the United States), but Ex uno plura ("out of one, many").

  As the Virginia Congressman Jim Moran puts it: "I don’t want a situation where whites go to theoriginal museums, African Americans go to the African American museum, Indians to the Indian museum and Hispanics to the Latino American museum. That’s not America."


  黑人历史是美国历史十分重要的一个部分,黑人从奴隶开始,到获得自由,出现了像马丁路德金那样出色的领导人,甚至如今奥巴马是第一位黑人总统。在美国,有 许多的博物馆是关于非裔美国人的苦难史奋斗史。但是,现在当新的博物馆拔地而起,奥巴马为其做了开馆演说,强调哪段历史,人们不免担心,当一旦过分关注黑 人,或者拉美裔美国人,或者是印第安人,美国这个民族就不是一个整体,而反而变得支离破碎。

The world’s deadliest bioterrorist

  Nature likes biological weapons more than human villains do. The best defence is more research, not less.

  SOME things are best kept secret. It is hard, for instance, to argue that public interest dictates publishing the blueprints for an atom bomb. The matter is less clear-cut, however, when scientific information that has the potential to wreak havoc might also stop that havoc happening.

  Take bird flu. It has killed more than 330 people since 2003. That may not sound many, but it amounts to 60% of the 570 known cases of the disease. The only reason the death toll is not higher is that those who succumbed caught the virus directly from a bird (usually a chicken). Fortunately for everyone else, it does not pass easily from person to person.

  But it might. That is the burden of research carried out last year by two teams of scientists, one in America and one in the Netherlands. They tweaked the bird-flu virus’s genes to produce a version which can travel through the air from ferret to ferret. And ferrets are, in this context, good proxies for people.

  The researchers’ motives were pure. The mutations they combined to produce their ferret-killing flu virus are all out there in the wild already. There is every chance those mutations could get together naturally and unleash a pandemic. By anticipating that recombination the two teams highlighted the risk, gave vaccine researchers a head start in thinking about how to counter it and, by fingering the mutations, spurred surveillance efforts, which have often been half-hearted.

  Or, rather, they would have done had they been allowed to publish their results. They weren’t. Both the American and the Dutch governments saw not a sensible anticipation of a threat, but a threat in its own right. Their fear was that bad guys somewhere might repeat the experiment and weaponise the result. So in December they banned publication of the papers revealing thetechnical details of what the teams had done.

  The threat from influenza is real. So-called Spanish flu, which infected 500m people in 1918-19, claimed the lives of one in five of those who caught it. Subsequent flu epidemics, though not as bad, have still cut swathes through humanity whenever they have arisen. But terrorism is real, too. Though there is no known case of biological warfare in the past 100 years, many countries have experimented with the idea; and there is concern that some terrorist groups, motivatednot by specific political grievances but by a general hatred of the West, might unleash theuncontrollable mayhem of a viral epidemic purely out of spite. So who is right— the researchers who want to publish their findings, or the governments that want to stop them?

  In this particular case, probably the researchers. And, to their credit, the authorities seem to have recognised that. After months of fraught deliberation involving the world’s leading virologists, journal editors, security experts, ethicists and policymakers, the Americans reversedtheir stance on April 20th (see article). The Dutch were reconsidering theirs as The Economistwent to press.

  The reason is that, as bioterrorists go, humans pale in comparison with nature. Even America’ssecurity services, which might be expected to err on the side of caution, seem to agree that the odds of a bioterror attack are long. Biological weapons require skilled scientists working in state-of-the-art facilities. Even then, they are unpredictable—and therefore difficult to control. A deadly bug might come back to bite its maker, possibly before it had been made into a weapon. Aum Shinrikyo, a sect with sophisticated scientific capability, toyed with anthrax in 1993. But for its most brazen attack, when it killed 13 people in the Tokyo metro two years later, it preferred nerve gas. In September 2001 al-Qaeda plumped for aeroplanes.

  Nature, by contrast, has form. in this area. From the Black Death via Spanish flu to AIDS,bacteria and viruses have killed on a scale that terrorists and dictators can only dream of. The more you gag scientists or hide data, the harder it is for them to look for cures; you also probably drive bright young researchers away towards less fraught, blander areas.

  Natural-born killers

  At the moment, then, the natural threat seems greater than the artificial one. And it is brave of America’s authorities to recognise that. If a terrorist outrage does happen, they will surely get theblame. By contrast, “acts of nature” are more easily shrugged off as, as it were, acts of God.

  This case does, however, highlight a problem that is only going to grow. The atom bomb is a child of physics. Nerve gas is a child of chemistry. These are both old, mature sciences. Biotechnology is new. Its potential and limits are obscure. This time America has made the rightdecision. It is to be hoped that the Dutch will soon follow suit. But it behoves everyone—politicians and scientists alike—to keep a close eye on a fast-changing technology and on any shiftin the balance of risks.


  科学家们研制出了一种新型病毒,可以迅速传播危害巨大,但是政府却不允许他们的科学成果予以发表。究竟是谁在理呢?经过激烈讨论,美国最终选择允许科研结 果发表,荷兰可能也会改变立场。与其掩藏危险,不如主动寻找解决办法。文章最后提问,原子弹是物理科学的产物,神经毒气是化学科学的产物,如今新的生物科 技又带来了新的挑战。我们,我们的科学家,政府,政客,又应该如何应对?

Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons

  Finally, America is beginning to tackle overcrowded prisons, prompted by financially strapped states that can no longer afford them. The road to prison reform, and less crowding, includes revamping ’three strikes’ laws, as in California, and limiting pre-trial detention.

  Necessity can spur novelty. Even political novelty. As the need for fiscal austerity grows, an unlikelyalliance has emerged between policymakers and public advocates who have long sought criminal justice reform. These policymakers are realizing what advocates have reiterated for years: The nation’ s addiction to incarceration as a curb on crime must end. The evidence is staggering.

  In California, 54 prisoners may share a single toilet and 200 prisoners may live in a gymnasium supervised by two or three officers. Suicidal inmates may be held for protracted periods in cages without toilets and the wait times for mental health care sometimes reach 12 months.

  Citing these conditions and more, the Supreme Court ruled in May that California prisoners were deprived adequate access to medical and mental health care in violation of the EighthAmendment and its prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It ordered the earlyrelease of tens of thousands of inmates.

  Prison overcrowding is ubiquitous and shows few signs of abating: Between 1970 and 2005, the nation’s inmate population grew by 700 percent. Besides impeding access to health care, overcrowding also creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions, diverts prison resources away from education and social development, and forces low- and high-risk offenders to mingle, increasing the likelihood of recidivism.

  Expect additional lawsuits. That’s why a consortium of states, including Illinois, Texas, and my home state of Virginia, submitted an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief in support of the state of California.

  America’s overreliance on incarceration has also impeded the rights of criminal defendants. The Sixth Amendment guarantees legal representation to individuals charged with a crime. Yet, because of the crushing volume of cases, indigent defense programs often suffer frominadequate staffing, funding, and supervision.

  In Kentucky, a public defender may represent more than 450 clients in a single year. In Miami, Florida, the annual case load is nearly 500 felonies and 2,225 misdemeanors. The consequencesinclude wrongful incarceration, wrongful convictions, and guilty pleas when meritorious defenses are otherwise available.

  Civil rights groups in Michigan and New York have already brought lawsuits seeking an overhaul of their states’ indigent defense systems. These lawsuits might be a harbinger for the future: States unfaithful to the promise of the Sixth Amendment may be forced to increase funding and restructure legislative priorities.

  Protecting prisoners and criminal defendants is not just about fidelity to the Bill of Rights. It is about recognizing that they are acutely vulnerable because they do not have access to coalitions and political networks capable of effecting change. Affording them protection is consistent with the enduring constitutional principle that political democracy alone cannot adequatelyprotect the rights of certain groups of people.

  First, revamp habitual-offender laws, now in effect in more than 20 states, which regularly yieldperverse sentences.

  California’s three-strikes law, for example, was passed during the paranoia that followed the searing murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a long-time violent offender, and is so egregiously punitive that nonviolent petty theft may serve as a “third strike.” Leandro Andrade, a father of three, who never once committed a violent felony, received two sentences of 25 years-to-life for stealing children’s videotapes, including “Free Willy 2” and “Cinderella,” from Kmart. A new ballotinitiative in California, “The Three Strikes Reform. Act of 2012,” seeks to change this law.

  Second, implement misdemeanor reform. by decriminalizing offenses such as feeding the homeless, dog-leash violations, and occupying multiple seats on the subway. Such reform. isvital: between 1972 and 2006, misdemeanor prosecutions rose from 5 million to 10.5 million.

  Third, limit the use of pre-trial detention. Nearly two-thirds of the nation’s prison populationhaven’t been convicted of a crime - they are awaiting trial. Many are arrested for low-risk offenses such as disturbing the peace or traffic violations, and they languish in jail because they can’t afford bail. Releasing these individuals would not jeopardize public safety and would reduce overcrowding and public defender case loads. Just this year, Kentucky terminated pre-trial detention for numerous drug offenses and mandated citations rather than arrests for certainmisdemeanors.

  Fourth, impose nonprison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations like missing a meeting or court appearance. This would dramatically ameliorateovercrowding and excessive case loads given that over a third of all prison admissions are for such types of violations. Texas is leading the charge here, and through such measures has significantly reduced its inmate population.

  The spirit that animates the Sixth and Eighth Amendments is human dignity. A recognition that no matter the crime or harm, criminal defendants and prisoners retain a dignity that must berespected.

  Forty years ago, a group of inmates claimed they were deprived of this dignity and, in what has since become a subject of fascination in American pop culture, rioted at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. The ensuing violence and its death toll serves as an ominous reminder that America must pursue criminal justice reform. if it is to honor this dignity.